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- The Kindness of Strangers: A Story from the Montgomery County Chancery Causes


Postcard of Northfork, WV, coal camp just north of Switchback, WV. Courtesy of Pintrest.com.

The bedrock of the Library of Virginia’s chancery causes collection is the personal story. While most causes share similar documents, topics, and resolutions, each story told is unique. While processing 3,510 Montgomery County chancery causes during a two-year National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant-funded project, former Library of Virginia Senior Local Records Archivist Sarah Nerney and her staff of two, Regan Shelton and Scott Gardner, managed to record numerous noteworthy causes, known in local records jargon as suits of interest. One such suit of interest is  Agnes Schaub by, etc. v. Floyd Schaub, 1912-042.

On 15 December 1908, Agnes L. Harrison and Floyd Schaub married in Bristol, Tennessee. As Agnes later recounted, she “was a mere child when she ran away and married… just about 30 days before her sixteenth birthday.” As their marriage license indicates, Agnes was born in Carroll County, Virginia, while Floyd was born in neighboring Pulaski County. For a short time, they live together with “his people” in Carroll County and in Bluefield, West Virginia. Eventually, the couple settled “half-time in Pocahontas, Virginia and half-time in Switchback, West Virginia.”

Agnes acknowledged that Floyd began to mistreat her almost as soon as they were married, and that “on the slightest provocation or without provocation, he would curse and abuse her and threaten to beat her.” She described Floyd … read more »

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- A Few of Our Favorite Things: Letterhead in the Archives, Great Seal Edition


189_, Governor's Office

The design of the Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia was adopted by the Virginia Convention on 5 July 1776, based on the work of a committee including George Mason, George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, and Robert Carter Nicholas. Their design emphasized themes of civic virtue based on ancient Roman mythology, but it was not cast properly and over the years numerous variations sprang up. In 1930 a committee was formed, including the current Librarian of Virginia Dr. H. R. McIlwaine, to look into the situation and establish an official version of the great seal. As part of the work for that committee, McIlwaine collected a series of letterheads with variations of the Virginia seal on them. They differed wildly in their portrayal of the Roman goddess Virtus, the defeated tyrant, and even the background of the scene. The original text on letterheads by Vince Brooks is included here for context.

Commercial stationery can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. Scholars of this subject point out that the rich illustrations and elaborate printing of commercial letterheads, billheads, and envelopes correspond with the dramatic rise in industrialization in America. According to one expert, the period 1860 to 1920 represents the heyday of commercial stationery, when Americans could see their growing nation reflected in the artwork on their bills and correspondence. … read more »

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- Glimpses of History: Henrico County Court Order Books


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As we have often seen in this blog, even the driest local records can lead to the most interesting stories. Such is the case with the Henrico county court order books, which recorded all matters brought before the court when it was in session, providing organized synopses of cases. The Library of Virginia’s research guide for county and city court records notes that the order books contain a wide variety of information, including appointments of county and militia officers, records of legal disputes heard before the county court, appointments of guardians, apprenticeship of children by the overseers of the poor, naturalizations, road orders, and registrations of free African Americans.

Occasionally indexes to the volumes were compiled separately and inserted into the front or back covers of a volume. The indexes are a great resource to peruse, as they often reveal more than just last names and page numbers—they lead to entries that reveal much about the complex lives and times of the people referenced therein. A few examples from the indexes and entries in a few volumes of Henrico County order books created between 1780 and 1801 illustrate this.

Orphans and the poor, regardless of race, were often apprenticed or “bound out,” and sometimes the order book provided information about various trades. In 1790, “George Maxfield a poor orphan” was bound to a shoemaker, “Simon, … read more »

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- A Virginian, a Tomahawk, & the American Revolution in the Old West

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with Virginia Humanities, sponsors residential fellows during the academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. Gregory D. Smithers, Professor of History and Eminent Scholar (2019–2024) in the College of Humanities and Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University, spent the spring researching and writing for a book project entitled The Riverkeepers: The Cherokees, Their Neighbors, and the Rivers that Made America. 

 


Print showing Linn brothers in hand-to-hand combat in a Native American village, Kentucky, ca. 1785. Illustration from Augustus Lynch Mason, The Romance and Tragedy of Pioneer Life, 1883, p. 413. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Like many eighteenth-century militiamen, Joseph Bowman was interested in more than warfare. Bowman’s enlistment in Virginia’s militia during the Revolutionary War also served the modus operandi for thousands of colonial Americans by the latter half of the century: the business of doing business. In a letter dated 14 June 1779, Bowman provided a rich description of the economic opportunities available to Virginians who were willing to try their luck throughout Anglo-America’s western frontiers. From New Orleans to the Ohio Valley, Bowman surveyed a diverse land rich in financial possibilities.

Joseph Bowman was born in Frederick County, Virginia, on 8 March 1752. The grandson of German immigrants, the family made the decision at some point during the eighteenth century to anglicize their surname name from “Baumann” to “Bowman.” Bowman’s forebears saw the western frontiers of Virginia as a space where they might prosper. As such, the family joined the first Europeans to settle in … read more »

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- “These are the men who took the cliffs”: Virginians on D-Day

Seventy-five years ago today, Allied forces landed on the Normandy beaches of France, launching the invasion that would push the Nazis out of France and eventually end the Second World War in Europe. This year’s commemoration may be the last to include a significant number of veterans, most of whom are now in their mid-90s. With that somber reality in mind, the Virginia World War I and World War II Profiles of Honor Mobile Tour set out to gather stories of Virginia’s men and women who helped win the Second World War. They include several who, on that historic day in June, “embarked upon the Great Crusade [to] bring about the destruction of the German war machine.”

William T. O’Neill, for example, served on the U.S. LCT (6) 544, one of more than 4,000 landing crafts that were part of the massive invasion fleet. The craft was designed to transport tanks and other cargo; on D-Day, the 544’s specific mission was to deliver a Headquarters 1st Infantry scout team and a squad of the 5th Battalion Special Combat Engineers to a beach called Fox Green. They continued to land personnel throughout the day, as well as bringing the wounded off the beaches. O’Neill also witnessed, and photographed, the sinking of the USS Susan B. Anthony.

 

Major Thomas Dry Howie, who taught at Staunton … read more »

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- Vestiges of Vietnam: Gathering Stories of the Refugee Experience

Editor’s Note: The Library of Virginia, in partnership with Virginia Humanities, sponsors residential fellows during the academic year to conduct in-depth research in the Library’s collections. An independent scholar from Arlington, Kim O’Connell spent the spring working on a forthcoming project The Saving Grace of Spring Rolls: A Story of Food, Place, and Family.


The author's parents on their wedding day. Courtesy of Kim O'Connell.

“No single story can capture the diaspora’s experiences,” wrote the Vietnamese author and Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen, speaking of the mass exodus from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in April 1975. This is one reason that, as a Virginia Humanities fellow, I’ve been gathering a range of stories about the Vietnamese immigrant and refugee experience here in Virginia.

Another reason involves my family. My mother, Huong, was born in Vietnam and met my father Dennis during the war. She had been hired by the U.S. Army to teach Vietnamese to American soldiers, and my father, then working in Army Intelligence with the U.S. Special Forces, was in her class. After a short courtship, they married on the military base in Okinawa, Japan, and he brought her back to America, where I was born. Immigrating via marriage, my mother was not a refugee, but in her own way she was driven by war from one life into another. By telling her story, I hope to better … read more »

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- The Man Who Killed Richard Whichello: A Henrico County Legend


Dorthea Ann Farrington, Whichello Tavern (Henrico County, Va.), WPA Historic Houses Drawings Collection, Visual Studies Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va.

At the end of the 1962 John Ford classic The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, a reporter remarks, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” The legend of Richard Whichello’s murder in April 1850 persists today, but it is precisely that, a legend. The persistent tale raises questions about collective memory and how stories color our recollection of the past. Like Ford’s archetypal Western, this tale also includes a horse, but let us begin at the beginning.

Whichello Tavern, also known as “Tall House,” sits on property in Henrico County once owned by the Randolph family of Tuckahoe. The land passed from a Frenchman named Druin down through his daughter and granddaughter (Catherine Woodward and Eliza Ann Woodward Winston, respectively) until  Richard Whichello bought it in 1838.

Whichello, who opted to open a rest stop for travelers heading to and from Richmond, has been characterized in lore as a miserly, abusive card-cheat, which makes him a much less sympathetic murder victim. The oft-repeated legend tells of a cattle drover, flush with cash after selling his herd in the city, who stopped at Whichello’s for rest and refreshment. The ne’er-do-well owner talked the boastful cattleman into a card game and swiftly relieved him of his riches. The cheated drover opted to stay the night to sleep off his bender and lick his wounds. … read more »

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- Big Top or Crops?


Staunton Spectator, 16 September 1873, Virginia Newspaper Project, Library of Virginia, Richmond, VA.

Traveling circuses, with their daring performers and ferocious animals, drew considerable crowds in the 19th century. The incredible feats of courage exhilarated the minds of visitors and broke the monotony of everyday life. Not everyone, however, celebrated circus excitement. In fact, as proven in an 1850s Smyth County court case, a circus could intrude upon the rights of others and even threaten to degrade their livelihood.

In 1859, a man by the name of W. D. Strother was troubled because of a “circus intrusion.” Strother owned approximately 15 acres of land in rural Smyth County, Virginia. He sold ten of those acres sold to Hubbard and Clark; the remaining five acres were later sold to Jones and Gilmore, who used their portion to grow and sell crops and shared proceeds with Strother. On the surface, the arrangement seemed harmless and Strother did not have an issue with the transactions. A road through the estate made the parcels easily distinguishable. The ten-acre lot was on one side of the road, with Strother’s residual five acres on the other. Everything seemed perfect, until the circus came to town.

Hubbard and Clark decided to rent their land to a traveling circus. The Robinson and Lake Circus was a popular antebellum troop known to travel across the country. They built temporary shelters to house the events and performers during their stay, which varied from city to city. It is fair … read more »

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- Martha Ann Hobson: A Mother’s Day Story


Wells, Jacob, Fortress Monroe, Va. and its vicinity, [New York], Virtue & Co., c1862. Courtesy of Library of Congress.

While processing some City of Richmond court records from the Civil War era, I came across the remarkable narrative of a mother named Martha Hobson. A search of Richmond newspapers on Virginia Chronicle and additional city records revealed more about her experience. It is appropriate to share Martha’s story during Mother’s Day week.

Martha Ann Hobson was born enslaved in the early 1820s. We do not know the name of the person who first enslaved her, but sometime in the 1830s her husband, a free African American man named Richard C. Hobson, purchased her. Around 1840, they had a son named Robert C. Hobson. Richard emancipated his wife and son in a deed recorded on 8 July 1850 in the Hustings Court of the City of Richmond. Soon after her emancipation, Martha registered as a “free black,” and the Hustings Court granted her permission to remain in the commonwealth.

Over the course of the 1850s, Martha’s husband used the income he earned as barber to acquire property in Richmond. According to the 1860 census, Richard Hobson held real estate valued at $3,300, which equals nearly $100,000 in today’s dollars. The Hobsons lived in the Second Ward (east of 22nd Street) of Richmond where their neighbors were lawyers, merchants, underwriters, and the city sheriff, all of whom were white.

Around 1860, anticipating the limited educational opportunities … read more »

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- A Few of Our Favorite Things: Letterhead in the Archive

Happy World Stationery Day! As promised in a previous posts, here’s another look at some of the plethora of letterheads and stationery found in our archives.  The original text by Vince Brooks is included here for context.

Commercial stationery can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. Scholars of this subject point out that the rich illustrations and elaborate printing of commercial letterheads, billheads, and envelopes correspond with the dramatic rise in industrialization in America. According to one expert, the period 1860 to 1920 represents the heyday of commercial stationery, when Americans could see their growing nation reflected in the artwork on their bills and correspondence. As commercial artists influenced the job printing profession, the illustrations became more detailed and creative.

Robert Biggert, an authority on commercial stationery, wrote an extensive study of letterhead design for the Ephemera Society of America entitled “Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery” and donated his personal collection of stationery, now known as the Biggert Collection, to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.

The primary role of these illustrations at the time of their use was publicity. The images showed bustling factories, busy street corners, and sturdy bank buildings–all portraying ideas of solidity, activity, and progress. Other types of symbolism can be found in commercial stationery, the most ubiquitous being “man’s … read more »

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